Leaping Back Into the Wild - Finfoot Lake Reserve Welcomes First Leopard
The team at Finfoot Lake Reserve recently celebrated the arrival of their newest celebrity — a leopard rescued from an illegal gin trap near the Botswanan border.
Situated within the Elands River Reserve in the North West Province, the release of their first big cat onto their newly acquired neighbouring property is the next step in expanding the reserve into a conservation haven for larger game species.
“On the 6th of August, Vasti Botha, Problem Animal Specialist at the North West Department of Economic Development Environment Conservation and Tourism (DEDECT), informed me about a young male leopard in need of medical attention,” says Sarel van der Westhuizen, General Manager of Finfoot.
“Considered a Damage-Causing Animal (DCA), she asked if we would be willing to accommodate him within our reserve in exchange for funding his vet costs and subsequent rehabilitation.”
After negotiating with Brent Dickson, the Director of Dream Hotels and Resorts under which Finfoot operates, the team agreed to begin the release process. Arrangements were then made to transport the leopard to the Old Chapel Veterinary Clinic in Pretoria for treatment by veterinary specialist, Peter Caldwell.
“Doctor Caldwell took great care of the young cat who was in good health overall, despite everything he had endured. Unfortunately, we did have to remove one toe from his left metatarsal and three toes from his right metacarpal.”
While the leopard was ensnared in the gin trap, he had become distressed, gnawing on his paws to break free.
“He may have lost a few toes, but that doesn’t make him any less of a leopard and a majestic predator at that. Tracking him is going to be very interesting, as we’ll always be able to recognise his unique prints!”
According to DCA regulations, Van der Westhuizen and his team also needed to fit the leopard with a GPS collar to monitor its progress after release.
“As you can imagine, fitting a tracking collar on a wild feline is quite an expensive feat. However, while we were still planning to get the funds, I received a phone call which made me very happy! As it turns out, John Power, a Terrestrial Ecologist at DEDECT, had contacted the incredible team at Wildlife ACT Innovations who agreed to help sponsor the collar for us!”
On the 1st of September, the Finfoot team arrived at the Old Chapel Vet Clinic to fit the new collar, take some final measurements, and come face to face with their spotted star for the first time.
After receiving a clean bill of health, the young leopard was transported to the Ann van Dyk Cheetah Centre at De Wildt for some extended recovery time in a larger enclosure before its final release back into the wild.
On the 15th of September, Vasti Botha from DEDECT delivered him safely to Finfoot.
“The moment the cage door opened, he had a quick look around before leaping out of the crate. He took a sharp right turn and bolted off into the open bush. There was an immense sense of relief. It’s been such a difficult year for everyone, but with this, we felt like, wow, we’ve achieved something really special!”
Van der Westhuizen further explains that his team at Finfoot is firmly committed to conserving endangered species.
“The natural environment is on our side, and there are sufficient resources for them to thrive. The recent purchase of the neighbouring farm provides enough space to accommodate our long term plan to introduce lions and other big game whilst still maintaining areas on the reserve for guests to roam freely and safely without guided supervision.”
He also maintains that the rehabilitation and release of the young leopard (yet to be named) would not have been possible without everyone coming together to assist and support each other.
“Special thanks must go to Dream Hotels and Resorts and the streamlined coordination between DEDECT, the Old Chapel Vet Clinic, and the Ann van Dyk Cheetah Centre,” he says.
“The local conservation community has always consisted of exceptional leaders – individuals who have dedicated their lives to protecting, serving, and celebrating our wildlife, and this was an example of that.
“This is a story of sheer resilience and determination. It’s also a reminder for all of us of the priceless value of life, of one more day, of hope,” he concludes.
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About Finfoot Lake Reserve
Finfoot Lake Reserve is everything you could want in a weekend break or week-long holiday. Located near Johannesburg (only 90 minutes’ drive), that much-needed slice of peace and quiet is within easy reach for travellers seeking to escape the urban jungle. Set within the tranquil Greater Pilanesberg area, this is a place of plenty when it comes to activities. Bring your bike, go for a paddle on the lake. Try a bush walk or game drive, delight in a sunset barge cruise, or how about taking on the Segway safari if you’re up for a bit of fun?
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